REVIEW Damson Headbones: bone conduction audio

Discussion in 'PC Audio' started by Fortigurn, Mar 17, 2015.

  1. Fortigurn

    Fortigurn Member

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    Disclaimer; I'm not an audiophile, so take my comments on sound quality any way you like.

    Resonant surface audio technology

    A resonant surface audio device does not produce sound by vibrating air using a moving membrane (like a normal speaker). Instead the device diffuses vibration across the surface on which it stands or to which it is connected. So a resonant surface speaker placed on a desk, produces sound by vibrating the surface of the desk.

    Damson Audio

    Despite being only two years old, Damson Audio already has a solid track record of making reliable audio products using resonant surface audio technology. They explain their technology here. Damson's early product (a mobile Bluetooth resonant surface speaker called the Twist), received moderately positive reviews; 6-7 was typical. You can see a very brief demonstration of it here.



    Damson Audio Headbones

    Damson's Headbones were launched as a Kickstarter campaign last year. Given the moderate success of their previous products, and the fact that their Headbones use the very mature bone conduction technology found in decades of hearing aids and used for underwater communication, I thought it would be worth a punt. In fact the use of bone conduction is not new by any means. Beethoven used it when he was deaf and unable to hear his piano when playing; he placed his head physically on the piano while playing, so the vibrations would reach the auditory nerve by travelling directly through the skull.

    An advertised advantage of the Headbones is that since they sit in front of the ear (on the temporal bone), and do not cover the earhole at all, you are able to listen to whatever audio source is providing the sound through the Headbones, whilst simultaneously being able to hear ambient sound. Unlike closed or open headphones, the Headbones do not obstruct the passage of sound into your ear canal. More on this later.

    The Headbones are presented well, packed in a rigid case like a sunglasses case.

    [​IMG]

    In the image at right you can see the Headbones have three ports; from closest to farthest, a 3.5mm line out port (in case you want to plug in your own earphones), a micro USB port (for charging), and a line in port (in case you want to use the Headbones with an audio source which doesn't have Bluetooth). The volume up and down buttons are between the USB port and the line in port. There's a built in mic so you can use it for phone calls and Skype.

    The Headbones actually come with a cheap set of quite usable earphones.

    [​IMG]

    I gave them a go. They fit comfortably deep into the ear canal, and sound pretty good. Without any audio input, they act as rather formidable earplugs, excluding outside sound fairly effectively. This is actually another way to use the Headbones; if you want to isolate the audio from the Headbones, you can plug these earphones into the line in port (just to keep the cable out of the way), and they'll provide good isolation from ambient noise.

    The Headbones come in a couple of colour configurations; I chose the carbon fibre model. In these images you can see the LED at the rear of the device, and the on/off/pairing button on the front right earpiece.

    [​IMG]

    The LED at the front blinks blue rapidly when the device is turned on (a voice prompt sounds, 'Powering on'), and blinks blue periodically when it has been paired and is in use. It blinks blue rapidly, then red, when the device is turned off (a voice prompt sounds, 'Powering off').

    In the photo at right here, you can see the flat plate which sits just in front of your ear.

    [​IMG]

    These photos show details of the adjustable headstrap. They're surprisingly comfortable to wear.

    [​IMG]

    Technical specifications

    * Bluetooth: Version 4 CSR APT-X Lossless
    * Battery type: Built in Lithium Ion
    * Battery size: 320mAh
    * Playback time: Up to 10 hours (bone conduction) 20 hours Headphones.
    * Standby time: Up to 300 hours (12 days)
    * Built in microphone: For Handsfree calls
    * Support for two simultaneous connections: Yes
    * Auto switch for call answering: Yes
    * Water resistant: IPX5 supported
    * Frequency response: 60hz - 20khz
    * Weight: 80g (2.8oz)

    They are surprisingly well balanced. The large bar at the back which looks awkward, doesn't feel heavy or irritating. That 320mAh battery was a great idea; my Jawbone Era gets about 4 hours of talk time out of its 80mAh battery, and I haven't run my Headbones' battery flat yet, so the 10 hours of listening time in bone conduction mode is looking very realistic.

    Those of us who backed the Headbones on Kickstarter will also receive free of charge (as a stretch goal), the Headcase, a hard travel case with a built in 2,200MaH lithium ion battery, a very intelligent accessory.

    Performance

    The Headbones are already receiving much better reviews than Damson's previous products. My personal experience with them has been great. As I'm not an audiophile I won't be going on about how I listened to a range of different musical pieces and movie soundtracks, and load my analysis with terms like 'plummy embouchure', 'deeply cinnamon tone', 'sparkling upper register', 'subdued thrashing in the mid-levels', and 'sadly limp when tempo increases'. I've mainly been listening to Enya, gaming, and recording narration for some instructional videos. All I can say is the Headbones sound really good when used for all three purposes.

    I was expecting weak tinny sound, slightly muffled. I was delighted by strong warm sound, with excellent clarity. I typically have them turned down a few steps from maximum, and with PC volume at 80%. Heavy bass causes powerful vibration which can be overpowering at loud volume, but definitely fun in games. It's really useful being able to hear ambient sound while listening to music or playing games; the Lady of the House considers this a definite plus, since I no longer have an excuse for failing to attend to her behests. :Paranoid:

    Some years ago I used a pair of Audio Technica A400s, which I really enjoyed. So I'm not entirely ignorant of what decent audio should sound like. What I can definitely say about the Headbones is that they really deliver. I can't notice any difference in the listening experience between using them and using a pair of regular headphones. I was actually expecting a significant difference, but there isn't any. This makes sense when you think about what's actually happening at a technical level; the vibrations are still reaching the cochlea, they're just taking a different route (via the temporal bone), which bypasses the ear drum.

    Comments and questions welcome. :)
     
  2. ysu

    ysu Member

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    Thanks for even just pulling my attention to this.


    I love good audio, I just need to go nuts with the balance to hear something on my right, I've only got bone hearing. I've no eardrum and a lack of bones in my right ear, so this could potentially be a great thing for me! However, it seems to fit in front of the ear, whereas the bone hearing tests I've done were fitting behind. Weird, not sure what this signifies.

    What's a bit of a worry; $150 really is cheap. Is it because they can save on components that makes regular headphones expensive?

    Another worry is the bluetooth/charging thing. I'd rather have a proper wired one tbh.

    Also a question; how comfortable is it on the long term? Did you try it for hours at a time?

    Thanks!

    I'll have a proper look at the details later. :)
     
  3. Zzapped

    Zzapped Member

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    Im wondering about the long term comfort, say 3 or 4 hours, and also noise isolation if any
     
  4. ysu

    ysu Member

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    Earplugs! ;)
     
  5. Snufkin

    Snufkin Member

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    These look almost identical to the original Aftershokz Bluez.

    Hot tip: don't buy bone conduction headphones for their sound quality.
     
  6. OP
    OP
    Fortigurn

    Fortigurn Member

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    It's very good for people in your situation; a number of the backers have hearing issues or complete lack of hearing. The position of the bone conduction plate doesn't matter; in front or behind the ear, the vibrations still reach the cochlear.

    Yes. This is not high end audio. You don't get rare earth metal drivers, exotic timber inserts, and endangered animal leather. You do get a set of features for a very specific range of use.

    The Headbones have a line in jack, so you can wire them up if you want; the battery will provide 20 hours of playback time if you use the line out option instead of Bluetooth. :)

    I have been wearing them for six to eight hours at a time. It took me a while to adjust them so that they were comfortable, for two reasons. Firstly I wear glasses so I already have something over my ears, and I needed to arrange the Headbones so they didn't interfere with my glasses. Secondly I needed to orient them properly. At first I tried to orient them so that the battery pack was parallel with the back of my head. That necessitated tightening the strap to an extent that it became uncomfortable over time. Then I realised the battery pack is supposed to sit much lower, just above your neck, and the strap is a stabilizer (not designed to clamp the device to your head). It's much more comfortable now, even over a long time.

    As for noise isolation, these are specifically designed not to isolate you from ambient noise. If you want noise isolation, you can use earplugs, which works very well.

    Similar, but they actually use a different frame to the Aftershokz; even the ear loops are a different shape. The frames may well be made by the same factory; there are plenty of wireless headpone products here in Taiwan using frames which are similar or virtually identical.

    True, and you don't buy wireless headphones for their sound quality either. I was actually considering the Sennheiser RS 120 before I purchased these (despite the fact that they look like they were thrown together using leftovers from the spare parts bin), but reports of the ubiquitous wireless background hiss turned me off (at least wireless bone conduction headphones don't suffer from that hiss). Though at this price point the Sennheiser RS 180 would be a more appropriate product comparison.

    These have the features I wanted; wireless, good battery life, highly portable (even in the case, these will fit in a pants pocket), no occlusion of ambient sound, and lightweight (less than half the weight of the Sennheisers). I find them completely adequate for my needs.
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2015

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